US surge plays into Taliban hands
By Walid Phares
Now that we know the Barack Obama administration's new strategy for Afghanistan, what will be the Taliban's strategy against the United States? How will the Taliban and al-Qaeda war room counter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Afghan government forces based on Obama's battle plan, which includes a surge in 30,000 troops? In order to predict how the two strategies will clash, and assess the accuracy of present US policies in that part of the world, such a question is warranted. Strategic perceptions The jihadi war room is now aware that the administration has narrowed its scope to defeat the so-called al-Qaeda organization, limiting its goal to depriving the Taliban from achieving full victory - ie depriving them of "the momentum". In strategic wording, this means that the administration won't give the time and the means, let alone the necessary long-term commitment, to fully defeat the Taliban as a militia and militant network. The jihadi strategists now understand that Washington's advisers still recommend talking to the Taliban, the entire Taliban, but only after the latter feels weak and pushed back enough to seek such talks. Underneath this perception, the Salafi Islamists' analysts realize that present American analysis concludes that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are two different things, and that it is possible to defeat the first and eventually engage the second. Such a jihadi understanding of the US's defective perceptions will give the Taliban and al-Qaeda a first advantage: knowing that your enemy, the United States, isn't seeing you as you really are. Strategic engagement The US has reconfirmed that the goal of the mission in Afghanistan is to destroy al-Qaeda and train the Afghan armed forces, but not to engage in nation-building. Unlike previous American commitments, which weren't very successful anyway, the current strategy officially ignores the ideological battle. Hence the Taliban understand that their lifeline to further recruitment based on madrassa (seminary) graduates is wide open. Washington's efforts and dollars won't touch the ideological factory of jihadism, which is the strategic depth of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Hence, the jihadi network in Afghanistan will continue and further develop its indoctrination structures, untouched and unbothered by American military escalation. US Marines and other NATO allies will be fighting today's Taliban, while tomorrow's jihadis will be receiving their instruction in full tranquility. By the time the US deadline to withdraw is reached, in 2011, 2012 or even beyond, the future forces of the enemy will be ready to be deployed. One wave of terrorists will be weakened by the action of the US and NATO armed forces, while the next wave will be prepared to take over later. Deadly deadlineThe administration's plan included a timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan (although reinterpreted as the beginning of withdrawal). Basing their assessment on the notion of "no open-ended engagement", the shapers of the new Afghanistan strategy have told the enemy's war room on camera that America's time in Afghanistan is until 2013 maximum, after which it will be Taliban time again. As many analysts have concluded, all the jihadis war planners have to do is to wait out the hurricane of escalation. The deadly deadline proposed in the strategy has no precedent in the history of confrontation with totalitarian forces. The Taliban have already waited out eight years; what are two, three or eight more years, if the US-led coalition's action is not qualitatively (not just quantitatively) different? A surge to the exit As presented to the Afghan people, the administration's new plan for the battlefield is seen as a last surge before the general exit of the country. The Taliban's war room has understood the equation. Thirty thousand more US troops will deploy with their heavy equipment, backed by another 5,000 to 10,000 allied forces. Offensives will take place in southern Helmand province and other areas. Special forces will move to multiple places and shelling will harass the Islamist militias for as long as two years or more. The Taliban will incur losses and al-Qaeda's operatives will be put under heavier pressure: all that is noted in Taliban leader Mullah Omar's book and saved on the laptop of al-Qaeda's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Then what? Then the time for exit arrives, and US and NATO forces begin their withdrawal. When that happens, the surviving Taliban, plus the new wave just graduating from madrassas, or the jihadi volunteers sent from the four corners of the virtual "caliphate", will have a choice to make: either they will accept the US negotiators' offer to join the Afghan government or - depending on their assessment then - reject the offer and shell the "infidel troops" as they pull out. In a nutshell, the new strategy is convenient to the Taliban war room: they now can figure it all out until the Mayan year of 2012 - and way beyond. All that it takes for democracies to offer the totalitarians victories is to not understand the latter's long-term goals. And the US has just done that, so far. Dr Walid Phares is director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and author of The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.